January 17, 2006,
O nce upon a time, you were an embryo. Had researchers “harvested” your stem cells, you never would have learned to read or kissed your mom and dad good night. Indeed, you never would have been born, and your life would have been squandered for nothing. Embryonic stem-cell research has yet to produce a single cure, while adult stem-cell research already treats 65 diseases and benefits human patients, not just lab rats.
Embryonic-stem-cell research (ESCR) suffered a severe blow last month as one of its most promising proponents, South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk, turned out to be a monumental fraud. The stem-cell lines he claimed to have created from cloned human embryos now have been exposed as utter fabrications. Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science has ordered “an immediate and unconditional retraction” of two papers in which Dr. Hwang discussed these bogus stem cells. Hwang who had credited his earlier “successes” to “his workers’ dexterity with chopsticks,” the Associated Press reports has resigned from Seoul National University with his reputation and “work” in tatters.
For the broader ESCR community, Hwang’s phony findings are akin to learning in 1879 that Thomas Edison’s light bulb was made of nothing more than candles, mirrors, and lies.
“The bottom line is that it’s a major disaster for our whole field,” Israeli researcher Joseph Itskovitz told the Associated Press, adding: “Now we are back to square one.”
For these reasons, among others, Congress, should abandon its foolish quest to use taxpayer dollars to dissect embryos.
Impracticality aside, this technology is bathed in moral problems. ESCR fatally divides microscopic humans (or at least pre-humans) into clumps of cells. The cells that would have been some child’s gleaming eyes some day might help make Alzheimer’s a memory. But that kid would not be here to see that happen.
Harvard scientists on August 22 announced a technique to make adult cells mimic embryonic cells without harming the latter. This eventually may do wonders. However, “Our technology is not ready for prime time yet,” assistant professor Kevin Eggan told the Boston Globe. “Our results do not offer an alternative now.”
Thankfully, medical innovation does not require Frankencells to be created by destroying Microscopic Americans. The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics in Washington and Comment on Reproductive Ethics in London are among the organizations trumpeting the triumphs of embryo-free alternatives
Since 1993, 1,801 individuals have received stem-cell-rich umbilical-cord blood from New York Blood Center alone. These have included 66 with lymphoma and 1,150 leukemia patients. NYBC supplies non-embryonic cord blood to 90 transplant facilities across America and 86 overseas.
“I haven’t felt better in myself for 30 years,” Englishman Richard Lane told London’s Guardian newspaper last March. “I have to pinch myself to ensure I am not dreaming.” After receiving three transplants of normal pancreatic islet cells from a deceased donor, Lane’s type-1 diabetes stopped, as did his insulin injections. “It’s almost like being a totally different person,” he said. According to King’s College Hospital professor Stephanie Amiel, “Eventually this could mean the end of insulin dependence for all type-1 diabetes sufferers.”
The Lancet, a British medical journal, reported last April on a 56-year-old Japanese mother whose donated pancreatic islet cells have healed her 27-year-old daughter’s insulin-dependent diabetes.
The August 2004 Lancet discussed the replacement of a German mouth-cancer patient’s removed jawbone. Using his own stem cells, doctors spent seven weeks growing him a new mandible around wire mesh. Once implanted, he tested it by biting into a Frankfurter. He soon resumed eating normally.
Adult stem cells have helped some 60 paraplegics and quadriplegics regain sensation and movement. Stem cells from their own nasal cavities helped spinal-injury victims Laura Dominguez, Susan Fajt, and Erica Nader stand up and walk with braces.
“I am now preparing to shed the shell of this wheelchair,” Fajt told the Senate Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee on July 14, 2004. “This is something my doctors in America told me would never be possible with my level of injury and to accept my fate.” Americans Dominguez, Fajt, and Nader have advanced under the care of Dr. Carlos Lima in Lisbon, Portugal.
Similar treatments empowered six Russians to boost their mobility. Bedridden for 19 years, South Korea’s Hwang Mi-Soon stepped gingerly with a walker one month after doctors injected cord blood into her damaged spine. “This is already a miracle for me,” she said in the November 30, 2004 London Daily Telegraph.
Blind people now can see, thanks to doctors who extract stem cells from patients’ own eyes, then culture healthy tissue to repair their corneas. “I feel like a human being again,” Deborah Catlyn told the Telegraph last April. She regained her sight after losing it in 2002 when a woman at a nightclub threw acid in her face. Catlyn is one of 20 Britons who this adult-stem-cell-research procedure has enriched. It was developed at Hyderabad, India’s Prasad Eye Institute, where some 200 blind people have been treated, most of them successfully.
Adult-stem-cell and cord-blood successes render inexcusable congressional efforts to fund embryonic-stem-cell research. With dilemma-free treatments already curing patients, why on Earth did the GOP House of Representatives last May 24 vote 238-194 to approve federal funds to slice tiny boys and girls into laboratory specimens? Before bumbling into his own insider-trading probe, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., of Tennessee enraged many fellow Republicans by flip-flopping and endorsing the same ESCR legislation he previously opposed and President Bush justifiably promises to veto. Republicans have no business initiating subsidies for homicidal medical research. For now, pharmaceutical companies remain free to finance this activity, if they must.
When it comes up for a vote, the U.S. Senate should defeat this measure and let adult stem cells work their magic. Taxpayers should not be forced to sponsor the destruction of Microscopic Americans, especially when “surplus” embryos are being adopted, implanted, and are being born alive as so-called "Snowflakes" babies 99 of them so far. Washington should let these souls on ice live happily ever after.
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.